These are notes related to my presentation "Researching the Social History of Winnipeg Buildings". This was my first time doing a presentation like this. If you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know at cassidy -at- mts.net.
Year of Construction
The Winnipeg Property Assessment Details Database will usually provide the year that the original building permit was taken out for a residential dwelling.
For commercial buildings, you can try the Winnipeg Buildings Index (U of M) or Winnipeg Architecture Foundation. If not there, Google both the address and any known building names, as it may appear in an historic buildings report or the biography of an architect.
If that doesn't work, you can use the Henderson Directory. Pick a year that you know the building was standing and work backwards to when the building disappears or is listed as "under construction".
In person, you can look up property information, such as year built, present owner etc. at the City of Winnipeg, 457 Main Street (Confederation Life Building).
These are split into two main sections. One is a name look-up that will give you a person’s occupation, address and whether they are the homeowner, renter or lodger. In the other section, you can look up the address and it will give you the name of who lived there.
There is also a reference section at the beginning with population information, a list of all residential blocks in the city, lists of all elected officials and government buildings, as well as an abbreviation index for the codes you will find next to a person’s name in the main pages.
The above 1912 search for 297 Beverley indicates that the homeowner (h) was Alexander MacIver, a machinist (mach) at the CNR shops. There were six names that came up that rented rooms (rms), indicating that it was also a rooming house.
There are 100 pages or more of ads for local businesses, some that include photographs of buildings or company officials.
The main drawback of Henderson Directories is that until the 1950s only the "head of household" was listed, which, 90% of the time was the man of the house.
- Online: Peel’s Prairie Provinces has most versions from 1880 - 1966 online, as does Past Forward, the Winnipeg Public Library's local history site.
- In person: Local History Room, Millennium Library; Manitoba Legislative Library in Archives Building.
There are online, searchable databases of past censuses. They provide a greater amount of detail than the Henderson Directory, such as all members of the household, nationality and dates of birth. This can help you determine whether you found the right "John Smith" !
Links to the census data: 1881, 1901, 1911, 1916 (prairies only) 1921 (ancestry.ca only). The Manitoba Historical Society also has an indexed version of the 1911 census at their website.
There are a number of websites that provide their own interface for census data. Try different sites and find one that is right for you.
Now that you have the date that the building was constructed and some owner names, it is time to check the newspapers !
Manitobia.ca has an long list of Manitoba newspapers in their archives, though mostly pre-1910. One exception is the Winnipeg Tribune from 1939 to 1945. For a more extensive collection, you will need to access subscription sites that run around $100 per year.
The Winnipeg Tribune, from 1890 to 1949, is available though Newspapers.com. (There are plans to eventually bring it up to 1979). The Trib has a much better interface, search engine and image quality that the Free Press' and you also get access to Newspaper.com's other titles which can be handy if you are looking up big news stories.
The Winnipeg Free Press from 1874 - 2014 is available through NewspaperArchive.com . Despite the poor interface and sometimes glitchy website with dismal tech support, it's the only game in town if you want a complete newspaper record.
Search for addresses, people, construction information, ads - pretty well anything you want. Until the 1960s, newspapers often published weekly or monthly updates of building permits issued and crowed about new buildings that opened. Their "Social Pages" were packed news about people visiting the city, wedding socials, teas, baby showers, graduation notices etc..
In the 1970s that began to change. Community and social news coverage drifted off. For privacy, presumably, people's addresses weren't always published in news stories about them and criminal activity, fires etc. began to take place "in the 300 block" of a street rather than at an exact address.
To access them for free, the Winnipeg Public Library has the Free Press available online or microfiche and the Tribune in microfiche only. (A more complete list of other libraries to come)
Information about people
- Manitoba Historical Society has thousands of essays, a Memorable Manitobans section and an historic sites database online. Just enter the name or address into the general search engine and it will search all of their records.
- You may come across people who fought in the war. Library and Archives Canada's recently completed Soldiers of World War One database lists everyone who served. Veterans Affairs' Canadian Virtual War Memorial lists those who died in both World Wars. It is also worth Googling a soldier's name and service number as there are hundreds of smaller sites around the world that also deal with soldiers.
- There are dozens of different databases that might be of interest. If the person was postmaster, local architect or Metis, they might be in one of them. Be creative with your Google searches and you will discover them ! If you really want to get deep into researching someone, contact the Manitoba Genealogical Society.
Information about buildings
The above mentioned Winnipeg Buildings Index (U of M), Winnipeg Architecture Foundation and Manitoba Historical Society are places you need to search at. For more prominent buildings there is Virtual Heritage Winnipeg and the rapidly shrinking City of Winnipeg Historic Conservation List.
Again, Google is your friend !
Photographs and Maps
The best way to discover historic photos of Winnipeg is to Google "Winnipeg History" and click the "Images" button under the search bar. Most of the dozens of sites that have historic Winnipeg images will turn up there.
Some sites of note are: Peel's Prairie Provinces Images; Winnipeg Tribune Photo Archives; Winnipeg Free Press Store; MHS' TimeLinks; Virtual Heritage Winnipeg; Winnipeg Building Index, PastForward.
There are many private individuals who have taken up the cause of uploading historic images. Thy include ManitobaPhotos; buflyer at Flickr; Andrew at Flickr; Manitoba Historic Maps at Flickr. In fact, Flickr is a great place to search for images.
The Manitoba Archives has thousands of hard copies of photos.
Oral histories have become very popular of late. You can check out places like PastForward, U of W's Oral History Centre and The Memory Project for Winnipeg-related clips.
Things to watch out for
- Street names and numbers can change over time. For a guide, check out Winnipeg Street Names or an old map !
- In early years, people often went by initials rather than first names. Frank N. Smith was probably known as F. N. Smith, even in his obituary. Search variations of names.
- Most apartments and building would have been referred to by their building name, not their address in early years. Be sure to search the building name in any search engine. Also use the word "block". For instance, search the "Leclede Apartments" "Leclede building" and "Leclede Block".
- Bookmark !!! If you find a great site, document or image, be sure to bookmark it or you might never find it again !
The Top Sites
These are the meatiest sties for local history buffs. They are worth taking the time to explore as they host a variety of collections within their sites.
Manitoba Historical Society
Peel's Prairie Provinces
Library and Archives Canada
U of M Library Digital Collections
Local History Room at the Millennium Library